Lesson 25: “Let Every Thing That Hath Breath Praise the Lord” #BCCSundaySchool2018

This week’s lessons covers Psalms—as in, all the psalms. Here are some things to keep in mind as we get started:

  • “Psalms” in Hebrew means “praises,” or תְּהִלִּים; “Psalms” comes from the Greek ψαλμοί or psalmoi, which means “songs” or “words that accompany music.” The Book of Psalms is the Bible’s songbook, full of emotion, prayer, pain, gratitude, despair, and praise. As Blair wrote last month, the psalms “sanctify our joy and grief, our anger and doubt, as well as our hope and faith.”
  • There are 150 psalms, written by various authors, many of them written by David. However, because in some cases the psalms have been translated out of their original poetic format, and because of copyist errors, etc., scholars debate how the psalms should be numbered, or what their original formats might have been.
  • The psalms are old, and they were written over a span of possibly five centuries.

How should we read the psalms?

The beautiful thing about this unique book of scripture is that the psalms are so varied in tone, content, purpose, and perspective, that the ways different psalms can be considered and contextualized are endless. Psalms are like Beatles songs—people like to categorize them by type, by theme, by era, but, in the end, you start to categorize them in your mind by the songs that you are attracted to in different periods in your life. The psalms are a collection of ready-made prayers, and reading through this book of scripture can be a cathartic experience, as you find yourself sharing this very old prayer and imbuing new life into the words by praying for the same things here in 2018. While much of scripture consists of stories and instructions, the psalms don’t preach and dictate so much as they give us language for communicating with God and each other. The psalms reveal that even though cultures and ideologies change over the centuries, our basic desires, hopes, and prayers echo from one generation to the next. There is a hope and a comfort in that for me.

So where should one start, and which psalms could be talked about in Sunday School this week? The church’s lesson manual makes some suggestions for psalms we might focus on, arranged according to subject. I’m going to call these:

The Greatest Hits Album (for Mormons)

(Psalms 23 set to music and sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir is really lovely, by the way.)

Your favorite psalms will different from my own, just like different psalms resonate with me today than the ones that resonated with me yesterday or ten years ago. It would be fantastic if lesson plans allowed for exploration, with students mining the psalms for verses and chapters that speak to them (or speak for them) in their individual circumstances right now. Just for fun, though, I’ve compiled my current list of favorite deep cuts that don’t show up in the above “Greatest Hits.”

Deep Cuts (psalms mix compiled by Grover)

  • Psalm 6, one of David’s prayers that provides relief as a cathartic lamentation. Reading it gives me the same feeling that watching Steel Magnolias with college roommates gave me—a relief that I am not alone in my crying-it-out.
    Favorite lines: “O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed. . . . I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears. Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.”
  • Psalm 12: a prayer for the resistance, a prayer for the immigrants.
    Favorite line: “For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now I will arise, saith the Lord; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.”
  • Psalm 26 is a favorite for me, specifically for this plea: “Examine me, O lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.” There is something simultaneously so vulnerable and trusting about this request. It’s a brave request, but also a hopeful one—it says to God, I want you to see my deepest, darkest, most secret and horrible places about myself, because I know that you will love me anyway, and you will help me become better.
  • Psalm 30 shows life after repentance, light after night, the calm after a storm.
    Favorite line: 
    “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou has put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness”
  • Psalm 42 is a love song to God, but it’s written almost as an unrequited love song—except that’s not quite right either. It’s a song about yearning for the one you need and love but who does not seem to be immediately there. Sometimes relationships with the ones you love feel like this. Sometimes relationships with God feels like this.
    Favorite lines: “As the hart [deer] pantest after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.”
    (How fine it would be to show up to church every Sunday panting and thirsting for God?)
  • Psalm 72 refreshes and refills. It is hope. It is promise. It is a poetic relief from cynicism.
    Favorite lines: “The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. they shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations. He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth. In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.”
  • Psalm 139 is one of the thanksgiving psalms, and it has some of my favorite verses in it: “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. . . . how precious also are they thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! . . . Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts.”
    It is a lovely mantra: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

What would your favorite psalms and verses include in your own Psalms Mix-Tape?

Read more BCC posts on psalms!
Blair’s “Let’s Talk About the Remarkable Psalms” (June 2018)
Jason’s “The Uncomfortable Comforter” (March 2018)
Russell’s “Ten Psalms to Remember” (December 2015)

Comments

  1. I love the idea of thinking of Psalms as Beatles songs. I am probably going to spend the day deciding which Psalms are early pop classics, which ones are experimental works of genius, and which ones are the occasional George Harrison sitar monstrosities that only got on the album to avoid a fight. Great post.

  2. Michael, right?! I went to bed feeling distressed that I didn’t spend nearly enough time working it all out. I did decide, though, that Psalm 23 is the equivalent of “Let it Be”: it’s overplayed enough that I ought to be tired of it from the over-saturation, but it’s so beautiful and comforting and poetic that I will never get tired of playing it. It seems to get more powerful the older I get and the more times I listen.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for this.

    Our GD teacher asked me to take a few minutes to explain parallelism in her class this coming Sunday. I had to chuckle, because I actually published an article in the June 1990 Ensign largely devoted to that very task. Here’s a link if anyone is interested (note, the formatting of lines was lost in this electronic version, but I trust folks will still get the basic idea).

    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1990/06/understanding-old-testament-poetry?lang=eng

    If anyone is interested in a more technical treatment, there is also this article of mine:

    https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1073&context=jbms

  4. Thanks so much for those links, Kevin! I was hoping to read up on parallelism, and I didn’t realize you had published on this topic (in the Ensign, of all places!).

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